Women’s shelter focusing on inclusivity, outreach

·3 min read

Eyeing a post-pandemic world, the YWCA Westman Women’s Shelter is looking to not just restart but expand many of its services for people in Western Manitoba.

Between mid-March and early July of 2020, 54 per cent of victims services surveyed by the Canadian government reported an increase in the number of people affected by domestic violence that they served during that time.

Owing to social distancing guidelines and restrictions that were put into place over the last two years, many victim services across the country had to change the way they operated. Physical locations were forced to close and counseling was held over the phone or via video chat. Many activities had to be curtailed or even suspended at different centres and shelters throughout Manitoba.

Things were no different for the YWCA Westman Women’s Shelter. Heather Symbalisty, executive director, said now that restrictions have eased and the pandemic seems to be on its way out, the shelter is creating even more programs to help people affected by domestic violence.

"We’re trying to create some really good community engagement and partnerships, working together with various agencies so that we’re moving forward in the right direction. Times have changed and we need to change with them."

Carina Listauro, community engagement co-ordinator with the shelter, said the organization recently met with Westman Immigration Services to help break down some of the barriers that face immigrants in need of their services. From shame and fear to cultural mores, reporting incidents of violence can be particularly hard for this group of people.

"It’s still very stigmatized. People are very embarrassed and ashamed, so even just to say that you’re there for them if they need it is very valuable and important for them."

The fears run deep — ranging from threats of deportation to separation from children. Often, the person who first comes to Canada holds the most power in the family. A lack of knowledge of the rights of women and children also contributes to why many newcomers don’t reach out when faced with domestic violence.

Another important aspect of reaching newcomers to Canada is working through the language barrier. Westman Women’s Shelter accomplishes this by providing interpreters free of charge to their clients.

A focus of the new and current programming will be reaching at-risk and vulnerable people in rural communities outside of Brandon. Since the shelter is the only one in the Westman area, it’s vital that people not just know about its existence but have the means to reach out and depend upon it in times of crisis — victims who are escaping gender-based violence, intimate violence, family violence and domestic violence.

"Some of the smaller communities don’t know we exist, so we need to get the word spread that we’re here to help. We want to be able to provide those services," Symbalisty said.

Shelter collaborators are working on accomplishing this by attempting to secure funding for transportation and visiting rural communities to give presentations and provide resources.

Inclusivity seems to be the theme of the shelter — from supporting newcomers, people from rural communities, victims of elder abuse, men who are experiencing domestic violence and the LGBTQ+ community. The shelter has helped 45 men since 2015, and five trans women since 2018.

"It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you come from. That makes no difference to us," Listauro said. "We want to support everyone, wherever they’re coming from, at the place they’re at."

Some of the services the shelter offers includes an emergency domestic violence crisis line, a children’s program, emergency residential service and follow-up services. Sharing circles and support groups also help to provide victims of domestic violence with hope and help.

Domestic violence is not simply a family issue; it’s a societal issue. Thanks to the care and services provided by the Westman Women’s Shelter, everyone in the community — regardless of their background — has a safe place to turn to if they’re in danger.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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